In an ideal world, goals would be easily attainable, merit increases would be automatic, resources would be plentiful and layoffs would be non-existent. Leadership would be easy in an ideal world. Everyone would understand the vision, take ownership, feel engaged, and be intrinsically motivated to ensure the company’s success.
But our world is less than ideal, and leadership isn’t easy.
Some days when you want to reward your staff for their hard work, you actually have to announce another round of layoffs. And some days when your team asks you to share the company’s strategy, you aren’t even clear on the answer. Other times, even when you do know the strategy, you may not have faith in the strategy yourself. These are true tests of leadership.
There’s a pervasive myth that leadership automatically equals power. Even at the very top of the organization, there are leaders who feel powerless. We can’t always control our customer’s changing desires, our competitors, our public perception, the media, or the economy. We can’t always control the message. But there’s one thing we can control.
We can say it with a smile.
Optimism is a highly underrated, but absolutely essential trait in successful leaders.
A realistically optimistic leader is able to see the bigger picture for the future, even when current circumstances are bleak. They don’t dwell on the things they can’t control. Instead, an optimistic leader focuses on opportunities, not obstacles. During every major economic crisis, a few new wildly successful businesses emerge. Those businesses were led by someone who didn’t let fear, uncertainty, and ambiguity stop them from taking calculated risks to break through desperate times.
Optimistic leaders don’t wait for opportunities to find them; they seek them out. Optimists have a strong inner locus of control. They believe they are in charge of their own destiny and never a victim of circumstance.
And an optimistic leader rarely has to work alone. Optimism is magnetic. During tough times, the number one thing your employees want from you is security. If you can’t offer them security, offer hope. If you believe that brighter days are ahead, and you can communicate that clearly and authentically to your team, they will join your crusade and spread your enthusiasm.
When times are tough, it’s easy to complain and create mental lists of unsolved problems. It’s more difficult to identify and articulate the silver lining. But when you do, you’ll re-energize your team and nourish the creativity, collaboration, and problem solving necessary to identify new solutions that will make a difference.